My task in this third Bombadillian post is to answer the question of whether Bombadil shows up with too little warning.  In fact, he shows up with no warning.  He does this because he is Tom Bombadil.  And with this I am going to return to the question I asked at the beginning of Part I of these posts:  Who is Tom Bombadil?

In answering the question of Bombadil’s identity, I will plead for a little metaphorical license.  Bombadil is no “deus ex machina”.  He is a homo ex machina; or best yet, a homo ex humo.  (I could digress vociferously here upon the pregnant connection between homo, human, and humus, earth.  But I resist the desire to linguisticate.)

Bombadil’s arrival in the Hobbits’ adventure as a man who springs up, as it were, from the earth itself, could not symbolize more aptly what we learn of him in time.  And what do we learn of him?  Already I hear the feathers ruffling.  If there is anything we learn of Bombadil, it is the fact that no one calls him a Man.  No one, in fact, calls him anything.  Elrond refers to him as a “strange creature” during the Council, but that is it.

In my last post, I essentially called Bombadil a half-way house between Hobbitry and Humanry, while still groundlessly referring to Bombadil as a “Man.”  That he is not an Elf comes out clearly enough during the Council, where Elrond does not acknowledge any remote kinship with him (“strange creature” not being the way Elves usually speak of one another).  However, I am sticking with my designation of Bombadil as a homo ex humo; and, as I hinted before, I think this accords with the details Tolkien gives us concerning his past and his nature.

Bombadil’s past is a force to be reckoned with.  To Frodo he gives away something of his age:  he says that he walked the earth even before the rivers and trees or the coming of the Dark Lord.  From Elrond we later learn, Iarwain Ben-adar we called him, oldest and fatherless.  But many another name he has since been given by other folk: Forn by the Dwarves, Orald by Northern Men, and other names beside.”

Orald, by-the-by, is a phonetic kissing cousin to the German word Uralt, “old as origin” or “ancient.”  The reference to Bombadil being “oldest” and especially “fatherless” arouses some suspicions about his likeness to another ancient character known in our world as Adam.  Adam was a son of the earth itself (“Adam” meaning “red earth” in Hebrew); and, interestingly, the Elf Glorfindel later associates Bombadil and the earth:  “Power to defy our Enemy is not in him,” he says, “unless such power is in the earth itself.  And yet we see that Sauron can torture and destroy the very hills.”  Bombadil’s clothes and his gardening are earthy, and he makes his power over the things of the earth to be felt everywhere through his little dominions.  And now, in spite of the fact that I said in my first post that Bombadil doesn’t have a glimmer of existence in any other fairy tale, I do recall a very lanky farmer-like character in George MacDonald’s book Lilith, which character, in addition to turning himself into a crow at will, also turns out to be Adam; and his wife Eve is not wholly unlike Goldberry.  So perhaps Tolkien is not so unoriginal in this as I thought.

Be that as it may, Bombadil comes leaping into the Hobbits’ story much as he must have come leaping into Middle Earth in the first place—a new thing, a surprise, an earth-and-sky-colored singing wonder.  It is no accident that Tolkien introduces him so suddenly, or in the particular manner of having him come bounding up from the reeds surrounding a dirt track.  And the singing itself is no less important than the rest.  I have tried to scan Bombadil’s rhymes for any set meter, and there really is not one: he falls into iambics or anapestics only by accident.  He does occasionally seem to be alliterating in an Anglo-Saxonly manner, but the strength of the verses is with their bounding rhythm, internal rhyme and plays on word sounds.  What is important is that Bombadil keeps this up even in his speech.  (With Bombadil, in fact, there is hardly a difference between his sung and spoken words.  Both have the same exuberant rhythm and parallels:  What be you a-thinking of?  You should not be waking.  Eat earth!  Dig deep!  Drink water!  Go to sleep!  Bombadil is talking! [131].)

The singing and rhyming are as much in the nature of Bombadil as age itself is in his past.  The startling thing about Bombadil’s rhymed and rhythmed words is the power they have over actual things.  Old Man Willow obeys him; a barrow-wight obeys him; and Goldberry calls him “the Master of wood, water, and hill” (135).  His mastery has to do with his singing and naming.  This is peculiarly interesting to me in light of a rather pedantical, slightly outdated, and yet not wholly valueless quotation I ran across in a book some time ago:

“Men have been keenly sensitive to the magic of words from the earliest times.  When man first uttered rhymes and measured lines, he was thought to be imbued with magical powers.  The notion that poetry is the product of inspiration was extraordinarily widespread among the peoples of antiquity.  The significance of the word Carmen among the Latins, and the belief of the Australian aborigines that their dead ancestors teach their poets their songs, are sufficient proof of the prevalence of this conception” (Guillaume, Prophecy and Divination, cited in Dawson’s Religion and Culture).

Words and names, of course, form the fabric of the Genesis story, from God creating things to Adam naming the animals.  Singing as a creative act shows up not only in Tolkien’s account of the creation of Middle Earth in the Silmarillion, but in C. S. Lewis’s account of the creation of Narnia in The Magician’s Nephew, and even Leonard Bernstein’s lectures on the “Unanswered Question,” in which he suggests that the words of creation in Genesis were not said but sung.

The power of sung words, however, does not consist merely in their ability to make things, but to express the passions of the soul—among them, wonderment and pleasure.  As Bombadil escorts the Hobbits back to the Road after their adventure with the Barrow-Wight, he sings (when he’s not singing nonsense) in “an ancient language whose words were mainly those of wonder and delight.”  Consider this behavior in light of his age.  Young things find the world wonderful and surprising; young children sing nonsense and dance about when they are delighted.  Tom Bombadil, as “oldest and fatherless,” is either a dotard or the embodiment of the delight that the first creatures must have felt when the world was young, and all was utterly new. 

Even the internal rhyme in Tom Bombadil’s own name is important.  Of course, Bombadil’s name is something of a theme through the two chapters of our acquaintance with him.  The first bit of sense we get out of him is a running phonetic play on Tom Bombadillo.  Twice Frodo asks who Bombadil is.  The first time he asks Goldberry, and she tells him simply, “He is,” and “He is the Master of wood, water, and hill” (135).  The next day he asks Bombadil himself, to which Bombadil returns the answer (in iambics),

“Don’t you know my name yet?  That’s the only answer.  Tell me, who are you, alone, yourself and nameless?  But you are young and I am old.  Eldest, that’s what I am” (142).

So in questing for Bombadil’s name, we come from his age to his singing and back to his age again.  They are all related: he sings because he saw the first wonder of the world and still cannot get over it; his songs move the natural things in his little dominion; his power stems partly from his being of the same earth with them, and partly from the fact that he is older than they; and because he is older, he has the sort of power over them that adults have over children—all while he is most child-like himself.

I am going to leap out onto a very far-fetched limb and offer both a final theory regarding Bombadil’s identity, and a final excuse for calling him a homo after the manner of Adam.  C. S. Lewis once described the Lord of the Rings as a long tale about people who were happy once, before the coming of a great Shadow, and who only wished to be happy again.  Bombadil, I think, is our glimpse into “those who were happy once”—a portrait of an original, uncorrupted Adam both powerful and childlike in his innocence.  Bombadil is what Men and Hobbits would have been if the Shadow, through all its ages and in all its various ways, had not alternately vitiated the lowest of the earth-creatures and forced the highest of them into quasi-tragic heroism.

Both the vileness of the Easterlings and the greatness of the Numenorean kings was forged during the dark wars with Morgoth.  But what if Morgoth had never been?  What if Men had never been tempted with evil, or had been too simple and innocent to heed it from the beginning?  What if they had never renounced their original mastery over the world that was made for them to “have dominion over”?  I think Bombadil is Tolkien’s answer.

Be that as it may, one thing is sure:  In tale as he was in time, Bombadil is First.